Difference Between Pidgin and Lingua Franca

Interaction between different populations has been a dominant feature of history, necessitated for the purposes of trade and other cultural exchanges.

Different forms of language like Pidgin and Lingua Franca have made these interactions possible.  

Pidgin vs Lingua Franca

The main difference between Pidgin and Lingua Franca is that Pidgin is a simplified form of language, which develops through communication between two or more groups that do not speak a common language. On the other hand, Lingua Franca is a language used for communication between groups that do not share a common native language. 

Pidgin vs Lingua Franca

A Pidgin is a disentangled form of a language, which is a compound of two or more languages developed by its speakers, who are different groups of people that do not share a common language.

These are a basic form of language that lack a writing system, grammatical nuances, and a rich vocabulary.

A Lingua Franca is a language that acts as a medium of communication between groups of people that have different native languages.

These are usually developed languages having a proper script, grammar, and vast vocabulary; which are native to a distant community but not to any of the groups involved (if it is not a pidgin).  

Comparison Table Between Pidgin and Lingua Franca

Parameters of ComparisonPidginLingua Franca
MeaningA simple version of a mixture of two or more languages; used by people that do not have a common spoken language.A language that is used by people to communicate when they have distinct native languages.  
Etymology‘Pidgin’ is derived from a Chinese pronunciation of the English word ‘business’. It was initially used to refer to Chinese Pidgin English but later became more inclusive.‘Lingua Franca’ is derived from Sabir or Mediterranean Lingua Franca, which was a pidgin developed in the eastern Mediterranean region during medieval times.
EmergencePidgins are born through the interaction of the groups involved.Lingua Franca is already an existing language used by the groups involved.
IndigenousnessPidgins are not a native language for any community.Lingua Francas can be a native language to a community, but not the parties involved.
FeaturesPidgins have limited vocabulary, simplified grammar and generally lack a writing system.Most Lingua Francas are developed languages.
ExamplesBislama, Hawaiian Pidgin English, etc.English, Latin, Arabic, French, etc.

What is Pidgin?

A Pidgin is an unsophisticated form of language, which develops as a means of communication between communities that do not have any common language.

It is often a mixture of the languages of the parties involved and does not have any sophisticated grammatical structure or vocabulary. Hence, they are often dubbed as ‘chaotic’ or ‘broken’ languages by linguists.

Pidgins have distinct characteristics that distinguish them from native languages. They are basic and accessible, are constructed impromptu, and learned as second languages.

They generally do not have any writing system, have clauses and terms from different languages, and are marked by the absence of observance of tenses.

Historically, pidgins have emerged out of the contact between Europeans and the people of countries they visited during the period of exploration and colonization.

Pidgins, like Chinese Pidgin English, Queensland Kanaka English, etc. arose as a result of regular contact between these people, which was coupled with a need to communicate (e.g. for trade) and a lack of another accessible language.

Despite their seemingly chaotic nature, several pidgins have managed to survive for generations.

Though pidgins are not native to any community, sometimes, long-surviving pidgins manage to become the primary language of an area due to their wider use and are then called Creole and not a Pidgin. 

What is Lingua Franca?

Lingua Franca, also called trade language, vehicular language, auxiliary language, or link language, is a language that functions as a medium of interaction between masses, which do not share a common indigenous language.

It is a third language, distinct from the languages of the groups involved. Sometimes, the populations get more proficient in the Lingua Franca that they use, than their native language.

The languages that are used as Lingua Franca are native to some other community, and are usually developed languages that have a rich vocabulary, structured grammar, and writing system; unless the language is a pidgin.

The term ‘Lingua Franca’ was first used to describe a pidgin made up of Italian and French, used by people in the eastern Mediterranean region.

The need to communicate that arises between two populations due to their contact for various reasons like trade, diplomatic, or administrative convenience; has historically assisted the development of languages as Lingua Francas.

Different languages like Arabic, English, Latin, Spanish, Chinese, Mandarin, French, etc. have been used as Lingua Francas during different periods of time and at different places.

Lingua Franca essentially is a functional term that can be applied to different languages that serve its purpose.

Main Differences Between Pidgin and Lingua Franca

  1. Though both Pidgin and Lingua Franca are used by groups of people that do not have a shared native language, Pidgin is a simpler version of a mixture of languages, while Lingua Franca is an entirely different language.
  2. The term ‘Pidgin’ traces its origin to the Chinese pronunciation of the word ‘Business’. ‘Lingua Franca’ owes its origin to the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, which initially was a pidgin that developed around the Levant.
  3. Pidgin and Lingua Franca are distinct in terms of their origin. Pidgins originate through the interactions of two groups that do not share a common language. Lingua Francas, on the other hand, are mostly already existing developed languages.
  4. While Pidgins are not native to any community, languages that act as Lingua Francas can be indigenous to some distant communities, but not to any of the groups that use it as Lingua Franca.
  5. Pidgins are a plain version of the language, which lack a grammatical structure, writing system and have a limited vocabulary. Lingua Francas, contrastingly, are developed languages having proper grammar, script, and complex vocabulary.  


Languages are structured systems of communication developed and used by humans. Different forms of languages have been developed by humans that cater to their needs, from time to time.

Pidgin and Lingua Franca are examples of need-based forms of languages developed by people.

Both Pidgins and Lingua Francas are employed as means of interaction between communities that speak distinct languages.

However, both are different as Pidgin is a fundamental form of a mixture of languages, while Lingua Franca is a developed language that belongs to a distinct language.

Moreover, most Pidgins can act as Lingua Francas, but all Lingua Francas are not Pidgins.  


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0024384162900219
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x

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